n + 1 has an article up about "The Reading Crisis." (Link goes to the n + 1 main page since they don’t seem to have a permalink to the article.) I like n + 1, but I think I need a little more from them than this. Basically, the article (I guess it’s written by "The Editors") is bemoaning the fact that our so-called reading crisis now makes it excusable for authors to hawk their books in all manner of creative (sometimes demeaning) ways.
A real debate could be had about all these things. Instead we get the “reading crisis.” Under conditions of the reading crisis, everything a writer does, no matter how self-serving and reprehensible, becomes a blow in the service of literature. An arbiter of a “revolution” in reading features games, accordionists, and contests at his public events. A best-selling author sends out emails asking acquaintances to buy his new book before it slips off the Times top-seller list—because without these sales-markers, classic works can disappear. A blogger-author roams bookstores putting advertisements in books reminiscent of her own: “If you liked this, you’ll love The Tattle-Tale.” And these figures are held up as models of the hopeful signs for a renaissance in reading.
Well, okay, I guess it’s fair to complain about this, but I don’t see The Editors offering any solutions. What should authors do? Just manfully abide like good stoics and hope their books sell?
And also, author self-whoring isn’t exactly new. I don’t think you can ascribe it tall o a changed climate brought on by a decline in general reading. No, no, the industry has been moving toward this for some time now.
Blame the industry, the authors, or just plain old crass commercialism, but sales-generating acrobatics on the part of authors are now expected by publishers. Not to mention that many authors, after they discover that their publishers will give their book virtually no attention, instead lavishing hundreds of thousands on a few lead titles, practically beg for the chance to whore themselves out.
I guess my point is you can blame authors for doing this if you what, but what the hell else are they supposed to do? And do we really need a whole editorial lambasting authors for bowing to market forces? Not to mention, didn’t Benjamin Kunkel just do a huge PR blitz for his book? Oh, but articles in the Times and The New Yorker are part of the dignified approach to bookselling. The good old genteel tradition of back slapping and goodoldboy networks.
I’ve got nothing again people who want to critize the sorts of things authors are forced to do to sell their books. I agree, it’s screwed up. But let’s try to realize that it’s not completely the author’s fault. And if you think this is a bad state of affairs, then how about telling us what should be done about it?